Trip to Napa and the Ishi Wilderness, October 14-20, 2014


This was my first trip to the Ishi Wilderness in October. Most of my other trips had been in early May, so I knew this trip would be different.  Again, Lauri and Mike were my gracious hosts, opening their home and making me feel welcome.  This was my sixth trip to stay with them and go on various adventures with Mike.  

The flight to Sacramento on the 14th of October was just fine.  My sister, Lola, gave me a ride to the airport in plenty of time so that I didn't have to feel rushed, and the flight was smooth.  Mike picked me up at the airport in the early afternoon, and we headed out to have a bite to eat. Mike knew of a burger place that served exotic meats, so we thought we'd give that a try, and ended up eating a burger of Kobe beef.  It was delicious, tender and sweet, and had some wonderful toppings on it.  The meat is generally considered to be a Japanese delicacy, renowned for its flavor, tenderness, and marbled texture.

From there, we went shopping for what we would need for our trip to the Ishi Wilderness.  The plan was that there would be four of us going on the trip.  Mike and I would drive from Sacramento to Richard's house in Chico, and Bob Price would meet us there.  We would then take two vehicles to the bridge on Deer Creek. 

Mike and I did some shopping for the evening meal (delicious grilled pork chops) and some for the backpacking trip, and then headed to his house.

Monday, the 15th, was a nice quiet day with a relaxing trip to the Napa Valley and visiting a couple of wineries with Mike and Lauri.  It's not often I get a chance to get a taste of wine that costs $88.00 a bottle or more.  It is safe to assume that I did not bring any bottles back, but the tasting was fun!  Mike also showed me where Napa obsidian was found and we collected a few pieces.  It's a very black glasslike volcanic stone that is great for flintknapping.

We left about 5:45 the next morning for Chico, and got there a little after 8:30.  Bob was there already, and packing his vehicle for the trip.  Richard had driven Janis to stay with Andy and Jill Mark during our trip, and he arrived home shortly after.  We got our vehicles ready, and off toward the Ishi Wilderness we went.  

I have described how the road deteriorates to nothing more than a rocky, bumpy, dusty trail as we get closer and you get thrown around inside the vehicle if you aren't prepared for some of the lurches and twists. Eventually we came to the bridge that crosses Deer Creek.  It's surprising to find such a sturdy metal bridge where it seems to be the middle of the wilderness. 

As we started hiking up the hill, I reflected on my first visit to this very spot in 1996, and how the story of Ishi had changed and enhanced my life in so many ways.  I summarized my first trip, and the story of Ishi in my first travelogue:

How and Why: The Long Journey to The Ishi Wilderness, 1996

In it, I tell how unusual a behavior it was for me to make this trip, by myself, to fly to California to meet a total stranger, Richard Burrill, and here I am, 18 years later, summarizing another trip. The story of Ishi has allowed me to expand my life that I thought was pretty well at an end in 1993 when I was diagnosed with degenerative heart disease and blocked arteries in my heart.   

My other trips since then have been put on my webpage:

Ishi Wilderness, 1997

Ishi Wilderness, 1999

California 2000 and Meeting the Daughter of Ishi's Doctor

Ishi Wilderness 2001: Graham's Pinery...Never Again! 

California and the Ishi Wilderness, May 2003

Ishi Wilderness, Northern California, 2004

Ishi Wilderness, Kingsley Cave, 2006

2007: Carmel and The Ishi Wilderness

Glass Mountain, Gold Country, Visit to Saxton Pope's 101 Year Old Daughter, etc.  May, 2009

Bay Tree Village by Helicopter, June, 2010

The Moaks and Murder Rock, May, 2011

Deer Creek, Ishi Wilderness:  May 2-4, 2012


I think the one symbol, to me, that reminds me of the Ishi story, my adventures, and the way it has enriched my life is the arrowhead Ishi is most famous for, the Desert Side Notch.

This one was knapped by Mike Lawson who does such beautiful work.  

I like how the arrowhead points upward in a positive direction, how it reminds me of a tree, perhaps the tree symbolizing knowledge and continued growth, of how beautiful it is, just like life itself.  It's also a reminder to me of how most things pass away, but some, like rock remain.  Life is so fragile, we must appreciate it as much as we can and take very little for granted, because we shall not pass this way again.

Back to the trip:

The main objective of this trip was to see the storage cave that Ishi had used while he lived there, and that Ishi showed to Waterman, Pope, and Kroeber when they returned in 1914.  Mike knew where the cave was, and had been there before, and knew it was a 12 mile round trip from the parking lot.  The plan was to hike in a couple miles with all our gear, make camp, and spend the next day hiking without packs to the storage cave and back. It would entail crossing a creek with waist high water, so we packed swimsuits, and old tennis shoes and a towel for that aspect of the trip.  

Well, you may know the old Yiddish proverb " Man plans, God laughs."  It was again true in this case.

We made camp about two miles down the trail at the same site we had camped at two years earlier at the base of Iron Mountain. We had taken our time hiking in because Richard and I are both much slower than Mike and Bob even though they carried in not only their gear, but lots of ours.  We are both approaching 70 soon.  Richard had a knee replacement several years ago, and this has slowed him down, especially going down steep hills, and we had a lot of going uphill and down on some loose rock and fallen leaves.

We got a campfire going, and everyone set up their little personal camping area.  I set up the tent I had used for the past several years, and got my sleeping pad and bag in and spread out.

We had a spaghetti dinner in the evening with garlic and cheese bread that Bob had carried in, along with the pots and pans that were needed.  We went down to Deer Creek and filtered some water for the meal and to drink.  We also had ample wine and other refreshments for the evening, so we sat around the fire until darkness and tiredness set in.

It's difficult to sleep on hard ground in a slippery sleeping bag, so no one slept very well.  Mike dreamt he was getting eaten by a bear.  A couple of us heard him groaning, so in the morning we joked about how we didn't bother to check on him, we just let him get eaten.

The weather was perfect for camping. It was mild during the day, cool at night, and it had rained a few days before so the dust was not a problem.  We had a leisurely breakfast, and then we started off for the storage cave.  Mike and Bob both carried smaller backpacks, and Richard and I pretty much carried the minimums of water and cameras.



Richard used two walking sticks to help with his balance and stability, but there were places on the trail that he had to just sit down and scoot on his rear, rather than taking a chance on losing his footing and tumbling down one of the steep inclines.

The rugged country is pretty unyielding to a couple of old guys.  The trail narrowed and was closed with brush in a few places, and a detour was needed to get around it. I was doing pretty good, but getting tired, but Richard had really started struggling and going slower, partially because of the difficult terrain.

 Our plan had been to hike the four miles, cross the creek, find the storage cave, and head back the four miles back to our campsite, but as we approached the creek crossing, it was becoming obvious we might not be able to do it. It was getting to be about 2:00 in the afternoon, and we still had some rugged climbs and declines and thick brush to contend with.

We stopped and talked about options.  Mike and Bob could go back to camp, gather some necessary supplies and equipment for the night, and we could make a temporary camp by the creek.  This would put them on the trail well after dark, and the creek was not an ideal camp site.  We could keep going, and hike back in the dark.  Not good for unsure hikers like Richard and me. We could spend the night in the storage cave itself, but this really was not realistic because of the size of the cave and our lack of equipment and supplies.

I had mentioned to Richard a bit earlier that perhaps we should consider turning around and working our way back to camp while Mike and Bob could continue to the cave and explore the area, and head back to camp at a much greater speed.  When Mike told us that the way down to the creek was VERY steep, I think Richard decided that his mind was willing but that his body was telling him he just couldn't do it.  I was fine with the decision to turn around and head back. It still was a tortuous four miles, and I was a bit tired myself.  My goal for the trip had not been lofty. It was to spend time in the Ishi Wilderness with my friends, and I had already met that.

We consolidated all the remaining water into one small container.  Mike and Bob were heading to the creek so that they could get more soon.  We would have to carefully ration the remaining water to have enough for our trip back which would take several hours.






I kept the water bottle and put myself in charge of handing out small sips along the way, and of trying to keep Richard moving fast enough to get back to camp before darkness set in.

It was slow going.  Richard's knee and feet were really causing him pain, but he kept going at a pretty even pace.  We talked some on the way back, but most of the time we plodded and struggled back on the rugged trail.  I did take time to look at the beauty of the area, and the photo on the left is what Richard called, "Inspiration Point".  

Eventually, Bob's bright orange tent came into sight, and we got back to our camping area.  

We had rationed the water enough that we didn't run out, but we were both very thirsty and a bit dehydrated, so I went and pumped some filtered water, and we drank our fill.  Richard pretty much collapsed in camp, but eventually slowly recovered, and went down to the creek to soak his feet.  Of course, nothing can go smoothly when you are that exhausted.  His coffee cup he took to the creek rolled down the embankment and into the creek.  In his quick attempt to retrieve it, both of his feet, shoes still on, slipped into the creek and he got both of them soaked.  He finally just lay back on the bank and rested for a while.

Darkness was setting in fast, so I got a fire going, and Richard and I snacked on some bread and an apple, and relaxed by the fire.  I pointed a couple of flashlights into the darkness in the direction that Mike and Bob would be coming, and after it had been dark for about a half hour I saw a light working its way toward the campground.  

They had gotten to the storage cave, had time to explore another cave in the area, and had made it back to camp in the dark.  The first thing they both said was that we had made the right decision in turning around and coming back to camp.  Getting to the storage cave was very difficult, with steep banks and thick brush, and we probably wouldn't have been able to do it.  Because it was enough of a challenge just getting back to camp, it was good to hear that our decision was the right one.

We cooked some dehydrated beef stroganoff for the evening meal along with some bread, and drank some wine while we talked about the day.  Bob had brought some cinnamon whisky along as an after dinner drink and it was quite tasty.

Soon, we got ready to turn in, and though you would think we would have been so exhausted we would have slept the night through, that was not the case, and at least I put in another fitful night of tossing and turning and trying to get comfortable.

The next morning, after a hardy breakfast, we started back toward the Deer Creek bridge and the vehicles.  We took our time, and Richard had pretty well recovered from the previous day's exertions.  We stopped to explore at Graham's cabin which was down by the creek.  It's a beautiful location, and this was where I stayed on my very first trip to the Ishi Wilderness.  There are hardly any signs left of the cabin itself except for some large stones from the foundation.

Back we headed the approximate mile and half, up hill and down, slippery trail and flats. Mike and Bob went on ahead, while Richard and I plodded along more slowly, but eventually we came to the vehicles.








After a long and bumpy drive out, we all convened at the Sierra Nevada Brewery and Restaurant for a delicious meal and some last conversation.

Soon, we said our goodbyes to Richard and Bob, and headed on our way back to Mike's house.  It was about 8:00 when we finally got back, and we both immediately cleaned up and felt so much better.





Sunday was a quiet day.  We unpacked all the camping gear and got it put away, and I started organizing my luggage for the trip back the next day.  In the afternoon, I did something outside my comfort zone as a memory of my many trips.  I got a tattoo on my upper arm of an Ishi point, also known as a desert side notch.

Mike had given me the exact point that he used as a model for the tattoo, and the young guy who did it had just taken up flintknapping and was thrilled to see the point and talk about flintknapping and the Ishi story.

The flight out the next morning was just fine. Lola and Dale picked me up at the airport and brought me to their house and my awaiting car, and I took off home toward Cambridge after another memorable adventure plus a permanent reminder of my many trips to the Ishi Wilderness